I stopped by Playa Vista today for the Clippers' shootaround in advance of tonight's final pre-season game, the dress rehearsal for the season if you will. You know, I wasn't in practices last year, but I've heard stories. This team is loose - as Jack Black might say, "loosey-goosey baby, loosey-goosey". (But let's hope they're not, as Billy Zane might say "limber, too limber.")
I chatted with Mike Dunleavy Sr. for a few minutes after the walk through ended. Here's what he had to say:
Coach is pleased with the pre-season overall. He's happy about the conditioning in particular, which is much improved over last season. He also likes the chemistry, and feels he's been able to see some good combinations on the floor during games. While he doesn't put any stock in the pre-season record (as well one should not), he's also pleased with the on-court results, and owns up to preferring wins over losses, even in pre-season.
I asked him about the efficiency of Blake Griffin in the last few games and he couldn't say enough positive things about his prize rookie. As we've noted here, Blake is getting everything he gets right now within the flow of the game, just by being active and athletic and basketball smart. In MDsr's words, they're not 'force-feeding' him. It's much easier to work him into actual NBA games (one that count in the standings) knowing that he can be effective and efficient without having to have plays called for him. It's a bit of a cliche I'll admit, but for now Blake can let the game come to him, which is a good thing at the start of his NBA career.
I also asked the coach about the starting lineup, and as you would expect, he was non-committal to the point of saying... well, nothing we didn't already know. On the small forward, he fell back on the fact that Al Thornton has been hurt, and said he didn't know who would start on Tuesday, nor who he considered the starter at this point. As we suspected, he said it would likely be situational based on matchups.
At the big spots, where Camby's injury is a factor for the opening tip of the season, it was a similar story. He doesn't know who the starters are, wouldn't say who would start if Kaman, Camby and Griffin were all healthy, and again believes it could be situational. (By the way, if you're anxiously awaiting Part 2 of my starters post, it will be a bit of a wait yet. Not only am I simply not done, but I also don't want to publish anything until after the Hornets game tonight, because I want it to be able to stay at the top of the front page awhile. Monday morning first thing at the very latest, I promise.)
Marcus Camby was participating in shooting drills at the end of the shootaround when I was there, but that's the first court time he's seen since Craig Smith landed on his ankle a week ago. He hasn't practiced yet, won't play tonight against the Hornets, and coach doesn't know what his status will be for opening night. It's possible that he could be out, on restricted minutes, or that he'll be fine. Other than Marcus, everyone is available to play tonight.
The most telling sight at the shootaround, other than the aforementioned loose and upbeat feeling of the group, was
Baron Davis, once again drilling with assistant coach John Lucas after most everyone else had left the gym. Lucas sets up three cones beyond the three point arc - one straightaway, and one on either wing - and Baron starts under the hoop. Lucas drops a ball at one of the cones, and Baron must collect the ball behnid the arc before it bounces a second time, then make a move and finishes at the rim in one dribble. If it doesn't sound that tough, try it yourself. Lucas, as we suspected at the time he was hired, has become Baron's mentor. As Lisa Dillman reported last week, when people talk about an unmotivated and out of shape Baron Davis from last year, Lucas doesn't recognize that guy. The test will of course be the regular season, but Baron is putting in the time in pre-season, that much is certain. He's the only Clipper to have played in all seven pre-season games.